S.A.T. Revisions Will Be Included In Spring '94 Test
BOSTON--In an effort to provide more and better information from the Scholastic Aptitude Test to students, schools, and colleges, the trustees of the College Board last week approved the most substantive changes in the college-admissions test in decades.
The new test--which will be taken by high-school juniors and seniors for the first time in the spring of 1994--will place a greater emphasis on critical reading skills, include mathematics questions requiring student-generated answers, and permit the use of calculators for the first time.
But while the College Board's 24-member board of trustees decided to offer essay questions that will test English proficiency, it refused to make the 20-minute exercise mandatory.
The proposed essay requirement had been the target of intense criticism that such a component would unfairly impair the ability of immigrants and non-native speakers of English to perform satisfactorily on the test.
Criticism of the proposed essays, concerns over the cost of administering and grading them, and questions about the use of calculators delayed a decision on the changes at a trustees' meeting in September. (See Education Week, Oct. 10, 1990.)
Donald M. Stewart, president of the College Board, said in an interview last week that, even though the changes stopped short of what had originally been planned and field-tested, he was pleased with the revisions.
"This is an interim step," he said. "I'm happy, but anxious to keep going. I think there's a lot of work to be done."
The changes, which will end up costing $20 million to implement, were announced Oct. 31 at the College Board's national forum here.
The revisions were presented as part of a major transformation of the 64-year-old SAT that will culminate in "computer-adaptive testing," College Board officials said.
Under the method, students will use a computer to take the test, and the computer will assess their achievement level after they have answered only a few questions and modify the test accordingly to make it easier or harder.
Such long-term changes in the SAT were contained in a report is sued at the forum by a commission chaired by Derek C. Bok, president of Harvard University, and David P. Gardner, president of the University of California.
The commission, made up of 15 high-school and postsecondary educators, recommended that computer-adaptive testing be in use within 10 years and that optional achievement tests--including the essays-- be made mandatory then.
It also recommended that tests be developed for 7th and 9th graders and for returning adult students. The commission's report, "Beyond Prediction," also suggested that the SAT change its name to the Scholastic Assessment Test.
In accepting the report, the trustees agreed with the recommendations, but did not act on them.
"We see the new SAT not as a static, unchanging test," said Robert McCabe, chairman of the board of trustees and president of Miami-Dade Commuity College, "but rather as the first step toward the SAT's continual evolution into the coming century."
Mr. Bok said the revisions will make the test better conform to classroom skills, diminish the effectiveness of outside coaching firms, move to combine achievement and aptitude testing, and reinforce a strong high-school curriculum that emphasizes reading and writing.
Currently, the SAT is a 2-hour multiple-choice test broken into verbal and math sections, each of which is graded on a scale of 200 to 800.
The current test is also accompanied by a multiple-choice English test, which is being eliminated; postsecondary institutions use the test to determine English-placement levels.
In addition, Achievement Tests on several subject matters, used for admissions and placement, are optional.
The new SAT--which will remain broken into two sections, testing verbal and mathematical reasoning--will last an additional 30 minutes. It will be called the SAT I.
The verbal portion of the exam will emphasize critical reading skills and the understanding of ideas and words in context. It wil delete the testing of antonyms.
The math portion will allow students to use calculators, and 20 percent of the questions will require answers generated by the test-taker.
A second test, to be called the SAT II, is an enhancement of the Achievement Tests. The trustees plan to expand the subjects available for testing to include the English essay, which will replace the Test of Standard Written English and the current achievement test in English; Chinese; Japanese; and English as a second language.
Mr. Stewart said a decision to make the essay optional was reached before the flurry of criticism of recent months.
One of the harshest critics of the proposal to make the writing test the third mandatory section of the SAT was Patrick Hayashi, a member of the Bok-Gardner commission and an associate vice chancellor for admissions and enrollment at the University of California at Berkeley.
Last week, Mr. Hayashi praised the decision to make the essay optional as well as the decision to include Japanese, Chinese, and ES achievement tests. "I think we're taking all the right steps," he said.
Other critics, however, called the changes "cosmetic" and said they did not address the SAT's fundamental flaws--its inherent bias against women and minorities and its relative lack of importance in helping make college-admissions decisions.
"Renaming the Titanic into the Lusitania doesn't change the fundamental nature of the product," said Bob Schaeffer, director of public education for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing.
Officials of the testing watchdog group, known as FairTest, made available at the forum a letter directed to College Board members that questioned the new test's accuracy, absence of bias, and necessity. It was co-signed by several groups, including the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the Center for Women Policy Studies.
Richard C. Romoser, the assistant vice president for student development at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland and a participant at last week's forum, said the College Board is caught between the need for standardized assessment tests and the fact that such tests are the product of a social system "dominated by one culture."
"I don't think there's any way out of the dilemma," he said.
John S. Katzman, who founded the Princeton Review, the largest SAT-preparation network, said the College Board did little more than rename the test.
"This is the most they could get away with, and it's a change for the better," he said. "But the underlying message of the conference is that we'll keep this commission going and hopefully by the year 2000 we'll have the changes we want."
Mr. Katzman said no matter what changes are made to the SAT, he will be able to coach for it. An essay, for example, is graded in less than a minute for length, the number of paragraphs, a few "$10 words," and literary references, he asserted.
Mr. Stewart said the new SAT would likely cost students more money, but that he was not sure how much.
More than 1.7 million students took the SAT last year.